A start-up found a smart way to build a sports media brand: High school basketball

  • Sports media start-up Overtime recently raised $9.5 million in a Series A round from a number of investors, including Andreessen Horowitz.
  • The company is only 15 months old, and already has 1 billion video shares.

Zack Weiner (left) and Dan Porter, of Overtime Sports
Source: Overtime Sports/Nicole Sweet
Zack Weiner (left) and Dan Porter, of Overtime Sports

A couple of weeks ago, a company called Overtime announced that it had raised a $9.5 million Series A round from Andreessen Horowitz as well as other sports celebrities like Kevin Durant (the ex-NBA Commissioner, David Stern, was an angel round investor). The partner at a16z who oversaw the Overtime deal is Jeff Jordan, former CEO of Opentable, who also backed Airbnb and Pinterest.

I had the chance to speak with the two co-founders of Overtime, Dan Porter and Zack Weiner recently, and was really impressed with them and their story.

Dan Porter has had an interesting career. He sold a ticketing company to TicketMaster in 2000. Later, he started OMGPOP which created the hit mobile/social game Draw Something before being acquired by Zynga in 2012 at the zenith of its popularity. Porter then went to work for WME as their head of digital.

Zack Weiner is a 25 year old chess champion who was on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for sports. He worked with Dan at WME. They started brainstorming what kind of sports media company was missing from the world today. That led to the two co-founding Overtime.

The core idea at the heart of Overtime is to build a sports audience among Gen Z's where they are instead of where their parents are.

Instagram and Snapchat are the best "channels" to aggregate an audience today. House of Highlights – with 8.3 million Instagram followers today — did that with one guy in Florida and now is owned by Bleacher Report.

But, if you're a start-up, you don't have the cash for sports rights – even if Kevin Durant is an investor. So, Overtime decided to go after sports highlights for which you didn't need to pay up: High school basketball.

Want to see the last game for Zion Williamson — who is off to Duke next year, and already has 1.2 million Instagram followers? The clips are on Overtime — and the dunks quickly went viral. So it's a House of Highlights that doesn't need sugar daddy Turner to pay for the sports rights. And it's a series of clips that helps to quickly build a strong community with an emotional attachment to the subject matter.

Spartanburg Day's Zion Williamson (12) makes a dunk while playing Keenan during the Chick-fil-A Classic at Richland Northeast High School on December 22, 2016.
Tracy Glantz | The State | TNS | Getty Images
Spartanburg Day's Zion Williamson (12) makes a dunk while playing Keenan during the Chick-fil-A Classic at Richland Northeast High School on December 22, 2016.

"That was a key learning from OMGPOP," Dan Porter told me when we spoke. "Draw Something was a hit. But it took 4 years to develop that hit. We spent lots of time studying user groups and feedback on what people emotionally responded to. We've done that again for Overtime."

How do they get the clips for Overtime? They have a network of "spotters" across the country. When they see something interesting, it's sent in.

So far, it's working. Even though the company is only 15 months old, it has 1 billion shares of its videos.

It's a really smart approach. When the world goes bananas for sports rights, find some other sandbox to play in and make it unique to you. With high school basketball, you get all the excitement of sports – from the same peer group as the Gen Z one you're appealing to – without any of the steep prices.

I asked the two about what other areas they'd like Overtime to move into next, now that they've built up a loyal following. High school football would seem like a natural extension. They said that they'd already started to create some longer form Overtime content, including giving some high schoolers GoPro cameras to take around and document their lives.

I asked if it was a modern day "Basketball Diaries." "Sort of," said Dan. "But not many millennials are asking us to make 90 minute documentaries that they can watch on their phones." Today's "longform" is a lot shorter than it used to be.

The other big adjacency that Overtime is growing into is sewing up the Gen Z generation for sports and growing with them as they age. All the data on linear sports shows that the average TV viewer gets older and older. The recent ratings for both the Olympics and the Super Bowl showed the biggest declines among the youngest viewers.

Overtime is going directly after these types of sports viewers. Find them, nurture them, grow with them. You can do all kinds of programming later if you find these viewers now, build a brand with them that means something, and get them in the habit of returning to your brand.

[Disclosure: Affiliates controlled by Eric Jackson hold long positions in Zynga and Disney]

Commentary by Eric Jackson, sign up for Eric's monthly Tech & Media Email and his Podcast. You can follow Eric on Twitter @ericjackson .